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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2779

Mr PORTER —Did the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs ask the Northern Territory Chief Minister to postpone Northern Territory legislation providing for excisions, thereby further delaying the granting of secure living areas for Aborigines living on pastoral properties? Did the Minister in July write to the Northern Territory property owners giving them three months to negotiate terms of an excision? I ask the Minister whether he said on 4 July in Western Australia:

If these negotiations are not entered into and resolved within the three months , then the Government will use its power . . .

That is, to achieve that objective. As five months have passed, how many excision arrangements have been concluded? What power was the Minister referring to? Has he used it? If not, does he intend to? If so, when?

Mr HOLDING —In answer to the honourable gentleman's question in respect of excisions, I say that I did ask the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory not to proceed with legislation.

Mr Sinclair —Have you changed your mind?

Mr HOLDING —No, I was trying to stop him from making a fool of himself. The reason was very simple. Let me deal with the history of excisions. Let me tell the honourable gentlemen opposite who have only recently discovered and, it seems, today are suddenly terribly excited about the condition of our Aboriginal citizens-I am pleased with that-of the situation that existed in respect of excisions. On pastoral properties right around Australia, as is recognised by the Northern Territory Government and as was certainly a matter of knowledge to the previous Fraser Government for some seven years, Aboriginal people were living in absolute squalor. Neither the State governments nor the Federal Government could provide even minimal housing or provide any assistance--

Mr Sinclair —Have you ever been to Hooker Creek? Do you know how they are living ?

Mr HOLDING —I am reminding the right honourable gentleman of his record because he likes to forget it. They could not provide any facilities of the most minimal kind for Aboriginal people. There was no title to the land and any pastoralist, if he so chose, could put a bulldozer through the area. In some cases negotiations under the previous Administration had gone on for as long as 10 years. No result had been achieved, except that in one case an overseas company indicated that it thought it was the duty and the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to remove Aboriginal people from land which the foreign company had acquired for pastoral purposes. I have said and I repeat in this House-I hope that I will be joined by members of the Opposition-that under the Hawke Labor Government not one of our indigenous people will have fewer rights than the cattle of foreign owners. We made a very clear pronouncement. Let me say with complete candour that we have received the overwhelming co-operation of the Australian pastoral industry, something that the honourable gentlemen opposite could not produce. We indicated that we would give three months notice to pastoralists, to indicate a willingness to negotiate.

Mr Porter —That is not what you said, is it?

Mr HOLDING —I am sorry; the honourable gentleman ought to get his facts right. After we had initiated this and after the pastoralist organisations had indicated to us their willingness to co-operate, we received better than an 85 per cent response. At that stage the Chief Minister without consultation with the Commonwealth, although he is very keen on consultation, decided to introduce his own legislation. I asked him not to proceed because at that stage we had to provide for the bona fide pastoralists who had indicated a willingness to negotiate an arbitral mechanism in cases in which agreement could not be reached . That was referred to Mr Justice Toohey in his current examination of the land rights legislation. I said to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory that he would be ill-advised to proceed with legislation in respect of this matter when the procedures laid down by Mr Justice Toohey could be at variance with his legislation. On that basis the Chief Minister agreed not to proceed.

This is one initiative that has worked well. We have had an overwhelming response from pastoralists. Excisions have been granted in a number of cases. We have a very small number of cases in which there has been no response. I will gladly provide a full list of them to the honourable gentleman. I am certain that when he, as shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, sees it he will be only too pleased to congratulate this Government for achieving in less than six months something which the previous Government could not even attempt in over seven years.